The Irish Government is expected to respond positively to a broad new migration and asylum policy, which the European Commission has launched today.

The so-called Pact on Migration and Asylum is an attempt to relaunch the EU's stalled migration policy, and was brought forward following a fire on the Moria camp housing 13,000 asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos.

However, some organisations have strongly criticised the plans.

Under proposals adopted today by the Commission, the policy of returning economic migrants would be speeded up, with a greater emphasis on the management of the EU's external borders, and building co-operation with transit countries and countries of origin.

The plans would involve compulsory screening for all migrants including identification, as well as health, security checks and fingerprinting.

There would be a "faster" border procedure with migrants who need protection being identified quickly and those who do not need protection being returned swiftly, according to a fact sheet published by the European Commission.

The Migration Pact would tighten procedures at borders to "deter" unauthorised entry into the EU. As well as returning so-called economic migrants more quickly, the new proposals would provide support for "voluntary departure and reintegration" for asylum seekers in member states who wish to return home.

There would be an "independent monitoring mechanism" to ensure the respect of fundamental rights, supported by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, Frontex and a new European Agency for Asylum.

The Commission says those seeking asylum would have their applications assessed individually, and would enjoy "essential guarantees protecting effective access to asylum, the right to liberty, the rights of the child as well as the right to an effective remedy."

The Commission has also dropped a previous commitment that member states would have to accept mandatory quotas for the relocation of migrants who have arrived in large numbers at front line states such as Greece and Italy.

Instead member states would be required to help front line states in exceptional circumstances when it comes to returning failed asylum seekers, providing "immediate operational" support, as well as help to build capacity when it comes to assessing asylum claims.

Member states can agree to relocate migrants from front line states if they are under pressure, especially those who have already made an asylum application, those in an "irregular" situation and those in need of "immediate protection".

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However, if a front line state finds itself under exceptional migration pressures, some forms of "solidarity" would be mandatory.  

"While the new system is based on co-operation and flexible forms of support starting off on a voluntary basis, more stringent contributions will be required at times of pressure on individual Member States, based on a safety net," says a Commission statement. 

The new measures have faced criticism.

"It's good that the European Commission is trying to bring EU countries together to achieve meaningful change. However, in its attempt to reach consensus, the Commission has bowed to pressure from EU governments whose only objective is to decrease the number of people granted protection in Europe," said Marissa Ryan, head of Oxfam's EU office.

"The new proposals now will likely replicate the abhorrent situation we have been witnessing for years in the Greek EU 'hotspots', where entire families have been put in actual or de-facto detention, and people seeking asylum have limited to no access to healthcare and other basic services.

"Women are disproportionately affected: only a minority of single women can access protected areas of EU-sponsored camps, and even pregnant women and mothers with newborns are left sleeping in flimsy tents."

According to Maria Nyman, secretary general of Caritas Europa, "a key element of the Pact aims at introducing mandatory fast track asylum and return procedures along EU border states. 

"Caritas Europa fears that these new procedures will dilute legal safeguards, and lead to possible 'refoulement' and increased detention. Any type of border measures must respect human rights and the Geneva Convention, and should never force people back to unsafe situations. 

"We are also concerned that this new system will replicate the hotspot model implemented in Moria, which has entailed overcrowded and undignified reception facilities and containment of people, and has proven to be a total failure for migrants and the local population alike."

However, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen described the new plans as a way of rebuilding trust between member states and reconciling the attitudes of countries which have resisted taking in migrants, and those who have been in the front line.

"We are proposing today a European solution, to rebuild trust between Member States and to restore citizens' confidence in our capacity to manage migration as a Union," she said in a statement. 

"The EU has already proven in other areas that it can take extraordinary steps to reconcile diverging perspectives. We have created a complex internal
market, a common currency and an unprecedented recovery plan to rebuild our economies. 

"It is now time to rise to the challenge to manage migration jointly, with the right balance between solidarity and responsibility."

Under the Lisbon Treaty Ireland has an opt out on EU migration policy, with the option of taking part where the government feels it is appropriate.

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, Ireland committed to taking in 4,000 asylum seekers through a combination of the EU's original relocation programme and a UNHCR programme for resettling refugees.

So far more than 3,350 people have already arrived in Ireland under the two programmes, and in December the government pledged to take in a further 2,900 applicants between now and 2023.

Under the UNCHR strand some 1,913 resettlements were completed by the end of 2019, with 72 people from Lebanon and Jordan due to complete the programme, but held up due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

It is understood the Government will look favourably at elements of the new migration plans.

The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said the plans were designed to tackle irregular migration to the EU.  She said that last year there were 140,000 irregular arrivals, compared to 1.8 million in 2016.

The measures announced today will have to be approved by EU member states.